Uma Timsina is an ethnic Nepalese woman who resided in Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom hidden in the eastern Himalayas. While the area has a peaceful reputation, she remembers the day that made her a girl seeking refuge.
In the early 1990s, during a brutal military campaign, Bhutan removed about 100,000 ethnic Nepalese from their homes, for the purpose of preserving the cultural purity of the Druk Buddhist majority. The government viewed the Hindu Lhotsampas like Uma as a religious and demographic threat and stripped them of their citizenship.
She remembers the day the Bhutanese army rousted her from her home. She was 12.
“They pounded on the door, screaming, ‘Open the door! Open the door!’ And then they surrounded our house. I was crying and my body was shaking,â€ she told the Huffington Post in December 2009. â€œThe soldiers were very bad people. They would do whatever they wanted to you.â€
Uma began like most refugees. She was pulled away from her home country because of a violent situation. Her only choice for safety was a refugee camp just outside of Nepal. She lived there with her family for 12 years, unable to call any country her own. But before she settled into the refugee camp with her family in an eight-by-fifteen foot double hut, shared by 13 people, she had to have found a way there.
How did Uma and how do refugees in general find a refugee camp and get accepted once theyâ€™ve escaped their country of origin?
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and refugee organizations, those who flee their countries often know of someone who fled before and know the countries that will accept them for a period of time before the refugee can be repatriated or resettled somewhere else.
However, in a few countries, borders are protected, but not all migrants are indiscriminately sent back to their countries. Instead, some border forces are instructed by the UNHCR to direct refugees to a refugee camp.
Finding a camp is similar to chain migration, the phenomenon of an immigrant settling in a new country and his/her family friends following soon after. Itâ€™s a network. People who are displaced from their countries will hear from others of a place that will accept them.
Refugees who escape their country of origin endure inhumane conditions to get to the border of another country, according to the UNHCR. And they do not always make it to a camp or a country that will accept them and are sent back to their country of origin where their lives are still in danger. The UNHCR is currently trying to implement a plan that will make this possibility less likely for those who seek refuge from a war-torn or life-threatening country.
In the case of Uma, now 32, her husband and their five-year-old son, they have been helped by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian aid agency that assists refugees. The trio left their refugee camp where they had limited rights, including no opportunity for an education or to work, and are now resettled in the Bronx.